Tuesday, October 11, 2011

East Liverpool, Ohio: Lou Holtz Hall of Fame

When it comes to the area around East Liverpool, Lou Holtz is definitely "the man." He coached Notre Dame to a national championship in college football, had a long coaching career in the sport, and is still working as a commentator on ESPN.

Around 1996, East Liverpool decided that some sort of museum to honor Holtz was a bright idea. Holtz said he'd only go along with it if others were honored as well. Within a few years, the Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame was created.

Here's a view from the balcony. You can guess that it used to be a bank building in downtown East Liverpool; I believe the purchase price was a dollar. It opened in 1999. I'd say more than half of the main room is dedicated to Holtz. There is a display for other local products who have made good over the years. They also honor a national figure once a year now. Recent selections are John Boehner and Jerome Bettis, two people rarely seen in the same sentence. Lou is a little conservative politically -- OK, a lot conservative.

The building also holds the death mask of gangster Pretty Boy Floyd, as he was shot and killed in East Liverpool. Downstairs there is a nifty train set with a replica of the area. We had a very nice visit from a helpful tour guide. It's pretty obvious that East Liverpool is thrilled about Lou's success, and that he didn't forget his roots.

Chester, West Virginia: World's Largest Teapot

It's Chester's top tourist destination!

For those crossing over from the Ohio side on the main bridge on U.S. Route 30 East, take the first exit. Once you reach the main road, go right -- under the highway. On the other side, by the on-ramp to go back over the bridge, is the world's largest teapot.

According to the official history, this started out as a giant root beer barrel (an ad for Hires), became a restaurant, and eventually turned into a tourist attraction when the city bought it. Supposedly Hampton Hotels supplied the money to fix it up in 2007.

After you snap the photo of it, you dodge a little traffic to cross the street and stop at the bait store/mini-mart. That's where you can find a post card of it. Mrs. Road Trips went in to buy one, and the woman in front of her bought a supply of chewing tobacco. You don't see women chewing much in Buffalo.

Newell, West Virginia: Homer Laughlin China Co.

It always fun to watch stuff get made. This factory gives you that opportunity.

It's the Homer Laughlin China Company in Newell, only a few miles from the very top of West Virginia. That's one of the legendary companies in its field in the world. There are several plants operating, and this one features a factory outlet and tours.

The tours are free but require a reservation. About eight people can take a walk through the factory at once, led by a guide. There is some automation involved, but it's surprising just how much manpower goes into the creation of a dish or bowl. At the end of the tour, visitors are guided into a room with some historic pieces and shown a video on the company. As they leave, they get a commemorative dish marking their visit.

Pictures aren't allowed on the tour, and you should know that it is rather noisy. It's like a factory in there! Seriously, though, it was hard to hear the tour guide at times. I'm not sure how to solve that problem. At least the workers were friendly to the tourists.

There are people who love Fiesta dishes, collecting as much of it as possible. Some models are worth quite a bit as a result. There was an article by the front door on a man who proposed to his wife in the factory, such was her love for the stuff. The company even made up a special plate for the happy couple.

By the way, be sure to take a look across the Ohio River from the parking lot when visiting. The cliffs on the Ohio side are quite striking.

East Liverpool, Ohio: Point of Beginning

You can argue that "the West" starts here.

It's a marker on the state line for Ohio and Pennsylvania, located on the north shore of the Ohio River. Back in 1785, the newly born United States didn't know much about what the lands west of Pennsylvania were like. Some surveying needed to be done. Thomas Hutchins got to work and figured out the point where Pennsylvania stopped. The mapping of the rest of the country, then, essentially began from that point. For the relatively complete story, click on this fine article from the East Liverpool Historical Society.

To be accurate, the original marker was down by the shore of the Ohio, and is believed to be underwater at this point. It was moved due north in order to improve access to it. You can find it right on Harvey St. along State Route 39 in Ohio; it changes route identification once the road goes into Pennsylvania. It's a few minutes from downtown East Liverpool.

American history pops up in some odd places.

Moundsville, West Virginia: Marx Toy Museum

Did you ever think you'd see one of your childhood toys in a museum? Me neither.

This is the place to find one of them. The Marx Toy Museum pays tribute to the glory days of one of America's leading toy manufacturers. The company was a leader in the industry, thanks to the good work of Louis Marx. If you grew up in the 1950's and 1960's, you probably remember the television commercials ... closing with "By Marx!"

The company didn't adapt well to changes in the industry, apparently. Also, it sounds like Marx's family wasn't a natural at the business. Marx Toys went through a variety of takeovers, buyouts, etc. and finally went out of business.

However, the spirit lives on at this museum. The Moundsville area was the headquarters for the company, although it also had a plant in Erie, Pa. Some of the toys have been saved and are on display. The place is filled with toy soldiers, service stations, Western gear, etc. A couple of DVDs are available to show visitors the history of the company, samples, prototypes and commercials.

Happily, the Rock 'em - Sock 'em Robots have a place of honor as you walk in. I must have had the toy at age 12 or so, and my friends and I would pound each other. Blocks got knocked off regularly, but sure enough we could pop them right back on again.

Moundsville, West Virginia: Grave Creek Mound State Park

To be silly, the Adenas are the people that put the mounds in Moundsville.

This Native group were around 2,000 to 3,000 years ago or so, and had the habit of cremating their dead and putting them in giant mounds. Now, these people had no wheels or horses, so you'd have to think a lot of work was done by hand.

A mound survived, a couple of miles at most from the Ohio River. It's now a state park, and visitors can walk up the 62 feet of stairs -- you'd better be in shape -- and walk around the top. From there they can see the surrounding area, including a nice view through some trees of the bridge to Ohio.

There is a museum in the complex, which along with a Native history lesson also includes some tributes to a couple of regional industries and local history. It's a one-stop lesson, I guess.

More information can be found here.

Moundsville, West Virginia: State Penitentiary

Let's get something straight right away -- the prison has been closed since 1995. So visitors aren't going to wind up in the Big House for 6 to 10 years by mistake.

The West Virginia State Penitentiary covers 11 acres in downtown Moundsville, a slight odd place for a prison. It was known for its punishing rules and overcrowded conditions. Roadside America said it was like every prison movie you've ever seen, which is perhaps why it was closed.

Then, it had a second life as a tourist attraction. Tours are held throughout the day. The most popular part is probably the electric chair. In fact, post cards of the chair are on sale across the street.

If you want a look at what life was like in the Big House, this is the place to go.

New Vrindaban, West Virginia: Prabhupada's Palace of Gold

Every so often on this site comes a destination that almost defies description. Welcome to another one.

This is said to be the only holy location for Hindus outside of India. It's not exactly where you would be looking either. Prabhupada's Palace of Gold is outside Moundsville, West Virginia, about 15 miles from Wheeling. You follow the sign off of Route 250 for about four miles down a winding road (you might see a Hare Krishna representative along the way), and then ... the palace appears.

Srila Prabhupada came to America from Calcutta in 1965. His followers decided to build him a palace, but he died before it was finished. They finished it anyway, and later added a temple.

The palace is a wide building that comes in layers or tiers and is ornately decorated (pictured). Tours are available, although there is a fee. Immediately surrounding the palace are a rose garden and a fountain. It's all well maintained and peaceful, and there's not a power line in sight.

Go down the hill, and the fun really begins. There's a large elephant statue by the parking lot, a couple of replica bulls a few steps away. Then there's the nice pond with a walking path around it. At a second pond, there are two 30-foot figures, each with an arm raised to the heavens. In the other direction is the temple and what looks like some dorms. Visitors can stay at either the lodge or in cottages, and there is food available.

Just when you think you have seen it all, the Palace of Gold turns up.

Sago, West Virginia: Sago Mine Disaster Monument

Those outside of West Virginia might remember what happened in Sago in January 2006. An explosion in the coal mine there trapped 13 miners for nearly two days. Only one came out alive.

Residents raised money and had this monument constructed just off Sago Road in Sago, WV. It's near the end of a church parking lot. The sculpture is designed to honor all miners, and not just the 12 that died.

The memorial was dedicated in August 2006; read about that here. The mine closed in 2007.

Buckhannon, West Virginia: Randy Brown Memorial Chapel

There is often a reason for roadside attractions. The catch is that you have to get out of the car and find them out.

This small chapel is located on Route 20 a few miles south of downtown Buckhannon. It's on the southeast corner at Sago Road, surrounded by a small park. Those who enter discover that Randy Brown was a child who died around the age of 8. His family decided to honor him in this manner. The surrounding area is called Children's Memorial Park.

By the way, the Sago Mine Disaster Monument is about three miles down Sago Road.

Richwood, West Virginia: Cranberry Glades Botanical Area

I'll get to the story of the picture, which is an unusual one for this blog, in a minute.

Just off Route 219 in West Virginia is a designated highland scenic highway. I don't know who has the job of driving around and picking out such roads, but I guess someone has to do it. Route 150 eventually leads into Route 39, and there are some overlooks along the way.

Along the way, a side road takes you to the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area. This for the most part is a swamp. However, there's a boardwalk that goes into the area to allow close observation of the interesting ecological area. The bogs are high enough to that different types of plant grow there than would be expected in West Virginia.

There is a nature center right at the intersection of 150 and 39. Naturally, it was closed on a Wednesday in October so we were out of luck there.

As for the picture, the white plant shown is called cotton grass. I got down on the boardwalk so that I could take the picture from a low angle, with the fall foliage in the distant background. The result came out pretty well, even if it is not my usual shot of a building. Click on it to see a slightly larger image.

Slaty Fork, West Virginia: Sharp's Kissing Bridge

Here's that bridge to nowhere that Sarah Palin talked about a while back. OK, maybe not, but at least no federal dollars were spent on this covered bridge in 2005.

Ken Gibson's uncle, Dave Sharp, always wanted to own a red covered bridge. I guess Dave thought it was romantic. So Ken built one, right off Route 219. The bridge crosses a very small stream, and leads to a field on the other side. Therefore, driving across is not a great idea.

A better plan is to park the car at the post office just north of the bridge, and walk over to it. Some pictures are hung there, including some wedding shots. Bring a friend along so you can share a quick smooch.

By the way, there's a treat if you keep going down Route 219 south. There's a barn on the west side near the general store, and someone has put up a stuffed farmer handing from the edge of the second-floor door. Plus there is a ladder nearby but too far away to be of much help. You can find a picture of it here. I've never seen takemytrip.com before, but it sounds like I should look around.

Cass, West Virginia: Cass Scenic Railroad State Park

This picture reveals a big secret about the Cass Scenic Railroad. The engine pushes the passenger cars out of the station, and doesn't pull it.

West Virginia has all sorts of rail lines, particularly in the mountains where raw materials were collected. Some of them are collecting dust, so it's a good idea to use them as a tourist attraction in some cases. Cass is located just south of Green Bank in the mountains.

The railroad has two different tours -- one lasts 90 minutes and the other goes 4.5 hours. The season runs from May to the end of October, with the prices going up in September for those who want to see the change in tree colors.

And back at the station, there is a place to eat, a souvenir store, and a couple of historial museums. They will help kill the time until the train arrives. Complete information is at the company website. You really have to love old railroads to want to spend 4.5 hours around one, but if you qualify this is worth your time.

All aboard!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Green Bank, West Virginia: Science Center

You may have heard of the radio telescope here, but it's tough to imagine the area until you visit. The telescope checks in at 17 million pounds, making it the largest object on earth that can move. It is visible from some distance away when driving in from the north.

The complex has a few historical devices used in astronomy elsewhere on the grounds. There are also dorms there as well as a visitors' center. By the way, the federal government has set up a "quiet zone" around the complex, which limits electronic communication in that area (cell phones, television and radio signals, etc.).

A few tips:

1. The best spot to get a picture of the big telescope is from the visitors' center, but the glass will get in the way. Go outside, and trees block the view. Speaking of cameras, digital cameras are not allowed near the main telescope. They might ruin some data.

2. The facility is open daily during the summer and Thursday through Monday in the other seasons. Make sure you try to go when the place is fully open. We arrived on a Wednesday and missed the tour. Darn -- and it's not as if Green Bank is right off the main road. Visitors can walk around the grounds, at least, so it's still worth a stop.

Elkins, West Virginia: Minnehaha statue

If you owned a store called Hiawatha's, your first choice for a statue outside probably would be one of Hiawatha. The second would be one of Minnehaha, his wife.

In the case of a store in Elkins, West Virginia, the second choice won. On the corner of U.S. 33 and 219 is the store selling Indian handmade jewelry and gifts, and Minnehaha stands guard in the parking lot. Since those two routes are at the major intersection of those entering from the east, north, or south, it's a good location ... and many travelers get to see Minnehaha as they pass by.

Davis, West Virginia: Canaan Valley State Park

Canaan Valley State Park is a 6,000-acre area in the Allegheny Mountains, the highest valley of its size east of the Rockies. It seems more like a resort area than a classic sightseers park, although it's easy to look around.

The resort and conference center have access to skiing, golf, hiking, cross-country skiing, etc. Tennis is also an option, although -- by the looks of the picture -- some deer will get to play the next time the courts are open.

In October of 2011, a large renovation program seemed to be taking place to the center. It ought to be quite nice when finished.

Davis, West Virginia: Blackwater Falls State Park

Blackwater Falls is one of the highlights of any trip to the mountain areas of West Virginia. It's surrounded by a state part of the same name. There's a parking area near a "trading post." Visitors can walk down the more than 100 steps to get to the falls themselves.

Once they get there, they'll immediately notice the tea-colored water than drops six stories into the river below. According to the official website, the "black" water is a result of tannic acid from fallen hemlock and red spruce needles.

There is a lodge and restaurant in the park, plus the usual facilities for fishing, boating, camping and hiking.

Silver Lake, West Virginia; Smallest Mailing Office

Here's the first thing you need to know: The smallest church in 48 states is right next to the smallest mailing office, just off Route 219 in West Virginia near the Maryland border.

The second: After plenty of looking around, it's tough to tell what town the structures are in. The church is said to be in Horse Show Run, while the mailing office next door bills itself on the front wall as being in Silver Lake.

Whatever. Let's focus on the mailing office, which is different than a post office. Basically, people leave mail there, and someone sends it on its way in the U.S. Postal Service. There is not anyone working there.

But someone sure has a sense of humor. Check out the sign that greets you when you walk in the door. I was tempted to mail a post card to myself from there, just to see how long it would take to get home.

Horse Shoe Run, West Virginia: Our Lady of the Pines

It's just south of the Maryland border on Route 219 in West Virginia. Blink and you might miss it, although there's a second entrance just down the road.

It, in this case, is Our Lady of the Pines. It is billed as the smallest church in 48 states. Roadside America raises the fair question as to whether the sign went up before 1959, or if there are smaller churches in two other states. The church was finished in 1958.

In any event, the church seats about 12, perhaps a bit uncomfortably. It has all of the usual bells and whistles associated with a church. It seems perfect for a very small wedding; there is even a picnic area close by.

For pictures of what it looks like from the inside, click here.

Shanksville, Pennsylvania: Flight 93 Memorial

This was our second visit to the spot where Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11, 2001. It might not be the last.

We visited a short time after the tragedy, driving through some back and dirt roads to arrive at a viewing spot that almost seemed homemade and thrown up very quickly. It still carried a great deal of emotion with it for anyone who visited.

Years later, the National Park Service has been working on a permanent tribute. The land between the crash site and U.S. Route 30 has been purchased and bulldozed into shape. A road winds to a parking area, which borders some kiosks and a small pavilion. Phase one formally opened on Sept. 11, 2011. (See the NPS site here.)

From there, visitors take a five-minute walk to the crash site. You see the wall above, with each portion marked with the name of a passenger who died in the incident. It's more reflective than emotional, but that's fine. It works pretty well.

Plans are in the works to add a visitors' center a short distance from the site, and to add trees along a new walkway. They are trying to raise money for the project.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Jennerstown, Pennsylvania: Statues

If you are heading down Route 219 in Pennsylvania while on the way to seeing the Flight 93 Memorial, you are a wrong turn away from seeing a curiosity.

Those who leave Route 219's expressway at Route 30 should go east to the memorial. But if they go west for a few hundred yards at most, they'll see a pair of statues that would seem to have no connection to each other. One is a praying mantis, which is nine feet tall. It's been around since the mid-1960's, although it has taken some hits from vandals along the way.

Next to it is a statue honoring the bicycle built for two. This is said to be 17 feet high and a tribute to the bike trails in the area. The Lincoln Highway had a "Roadside Giants" project, and this was part of it.

By the way, those who head east from the intersection might see a mural honoring the Highway. There's no warning, so keep an eye out for it.

Somerset, Pennsylvania: Quecreek Mine Rescue Site Memorial

Back in 2002, 18 miners in the Somerset area accidentally broke through into a flooded mine. Nine of them were trapped.

An massive rescue effort immediately followed. Crews on the surface had to figure out where exactly the miners were, and then they had to figure out a way to help them. Once the location was determined, a small hole was drilled down by the trapped miners to pump air into the area and keep the water out. Then a larger hole was drilled, and the men were carried, one by one, to the surface.

The good part is, all nine survived. The entry spot into the mine was 1.5 miles from where the workers were rescued (after 77 or so hours of being trapped), as they were pulled up on a farm off Route 985. Bill and Lori Arnold, the farm's owners, embraced the concept of a tribute to miners who survived and the workers who tirelessly enabled them to be rescued. This nice little park, just off the road, is that tribute. Besides the area pictured here, the tunnels are marked, and trees have been planted nearby. The farm house had added a bit of a museum to mark the event, and fundraising is taking place to make it better and perhaps move it to a public location.

The place is easy to find -- it's north of exit 110 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Follow Route 601 North, which turns into Route 985. There are signs along the way.

The area needed a bit of a boost, since Flight 93 crashed a dozen or so miles away from this spot in 2001. It's nice that the event is remembered this way.

Somerset, Pennsylvania: Breeding Ranch Tribute

For those who expect to see a 12-foot replica of an elephant in a restaurant parking lot, they'd love Somerset.

Apparently this was put up as a tribute to the town's elephant breeding ranch a couple of years ago. It got moved to, of all places, an Eat 'N Park right near the entrance to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Get off at Exit 110, head down the access road, and you can't miss it at Center and Pleasant. There's a little plaque about the history of the site of the restaurant, which has little to do with the display.

Kinzua State Park, Pennsylvania: Kinzua Sky Walk

The Kinzua Bridge used to be quite a tourist attraction. It was a railroad bridge that crossed the Kinzua Gorge. Passengers in the 19th century thought it was the closest thing to flying possible.

Eventually the bridge fell out of use, but the land became a state park. People, like me, visited it just to gawk at the construction involved. People were blocked from walking on it, but they could still marvel at it.

Then came 2003, as a tornado hit the area. The old bridge couldn't handle the winds at that point, so most of it tumbled into the gorge. That put an idea in someone's head. Why not firm up the part of the bridge that survived?

The state did exactly that, and the Kinzua Sky Walk was officially opened in 2011. Visitors can now walk on the top of the bridge shown here. There are even a few windows on the floor so that people can see what's below. The view of the gorge is great; the best part is seeing the destroyed portions of the bridge still on the ground. This picture was taken from the edge of the gorge.

Kinzua State Park is located east of Mount Jewett; look for a sign heading north off of Route 6, and another sign to the Sky Walk.

Here's a view from a drone, taken in 2014:

Mount Jewett, Pennsylvania: Mural

For those headed to Kinzua State Park from the west, driving through Mount Jewett is part of the journey. They might notice on a building just north of Route 6 in the center of town a large mural. The catch is that you'll only notice it from the West. The mural is four stories high and was finished in 2004.

Kong Ho designed the mural, which recreates part of the town's history. You might notice the Swedish influence; Mount Jewett has a Swedish festival in August. Ho is an assistant professor of art at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, not too far away.

Great Valley, New York: Little White Church in the Dell

If you need a place of reflection after a day of recreation in nearby Ellicottville, and don't mind tight quarters, the Little White Church in the Dell is the place for you.

This is a mighty small chapel, said to be six feet by 10 feet. It is in someone's front yard, and the owners obviously liked the idea of visitors dropping by for some peace. Yes, there is an altar inside.

Head south on Route 219 from Ellicottville, and head east on State Route 98. It's about half a mile down the road on the south side.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Statue of the Fonz

He's one of Milwaukee's most famous residents, if fictional characters count.

"He" is the Fonz, Henry Winkler's character in the television series "Happy Days." The show was set in Milwaukee, and the Fonz became a memorable figure within a couple of years.

But how to honor him? The city fathers decided a statue on the Riverwalk would be appropriate. It went up in 2008, with much the show's cast attending the dedication. So the Fonz's image is there to welcome visitors, 24 hours a day.

How to get there? Head for the intersection of Wells Street and the Riverwalk. It's on the east side of the river, south of Wells.

The one catch might be that the statue doesn't look like it is in a particularly busy or prosperous section of the Riverwalk. Commercial development seems a little spotty in the region. But, you gotta start somwhere.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Lakefront Brewery

Now THIS is what a brewery tour should be like.

Lakefront Brewery is rather tough to find, as it is tucked under a bridge along the river north of downtown. Therefore, you should get good directions first. And then get there.

First off, upon paying for the tour each customer receives four tokens each good for a six-ounce glass of beer. What's more, you are encouraged to get one before the tour even starts. Everyone, therefore, is in a good mood right from the start.

The guide plays her role nicely, with plenty of funny lines along the way. Most play up the angle that Lakefront Brewery is the little guy. Miller and Budweiser lose more beer in spillage than Lakefront brews in a given time period. There is some explanation of the brewing process, which is welcome. The building used to pull streetcars around the city, but had been empty when it was taken over by the brewers.

Along the way, this exhibit is shown. When Bernie Brewer slid into a big beer stein after a homer in County Stadium, this was the target. The stein didn't make the move into Miller Park (can't imagine why), so it has found a home in the brewery.

The tour concludes with everyone singing the initial verses to the Laverne and Shirley theme song. Then visitors head out to the sidewalk outside the brewery, where more taps await them.

If that weren't enough for $7, tourists receive a coupon good for another beer at local restaurants if redeemed by 6 p.m. that day. They also can trade in their paper cup used during their visit for a pint glass. During our visit, we talked to a native who didn't bother with the tour any more -- he just liked to come down to the brewery and sip on his beers.

This all works well; it's great -- and tasty -- public relations. Why would you go anywhere else?

Madison, Wisconsin: Monona Terrace

The good people of Wisconsin really took their time with this one.

Frank Lloyd Wright came up with the idea to design a "convention center" in 1938. It got built about 59 years later. Heck, Wright himself died in 1959.

The idea was to connect the lakefront to the state capitol. This picture was taken from the observation deck of the capitol. You can see a fountain in the middle, and there's a nice patio on the roof. Inside, there is plenty of rooms for meetings, receptions, etc. When we were there, a public radio program was being broadcast.

The picture isn't the best of the facility, of course. We probably needed to go out on to the water and look back to get the full impact of the building. Nice to see the place done, though.

Madison, Wisconsin: State Capitol

The summer of 2011 was a very odd time to visit the State Capitol building in Madison.

Where did all the protesters go?

The building was the center of attention during the months before that, what with the fight between Governor Walker and Democrats in the State Senate and the neighborhood filled with angry workers. The area became almost familiar through television.

A budget was passed shortly before our visit, and the only people in the surrounding streets this Saturday were customers for the farmers' market. It was a peaceful mob.

The Capitol is an impressive building even when not filled with angry people. After a rebuilding from a fire that was completed in 1917, the "new" structure is said to be closer to the U.S. Capitol than another state's center of government. The building is located on top of a hill between two lakes in downtown Madison. The facility has four main areas (executive, Senate, Assembly, Supreme Court) with a common meeting area under the dome.

Tours are available throughout the week, and are pretty interesting. Visitors do get to actually sit in the Senate chamber, which is odd considering the angry confrontations from that area shown on the news shortly before that. And the tour includes a visit to the observation deck, which has a nice view of downtown Madison and the University of Wisconsin.

But if you do visit, don't bring any tomatoes. Leave that to the legislators.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Madison, Wisconsin: Ella's Deli

You want a nice, quiet meal? Go elsewhere. Ella's is for the child in you.

This deli east of the State Capitol in Madison is quite an attraction. The sign of the front lawn and the merry-go-round next pictured to the right might be your first sign that this is not a typical deli.

Inside, picture a baby's playpen gone berserk, and you'll get the idea. There's all sorts of toys in the building, with training running near the ceiling. Many of the tables have particular themes, such as one devoted to the Packers. Supposedly, when the owners get a new toy, they don't take out anything -- they just add to the collection.

As for the food, it's a big menu and certainly suitable. The ice cream list certainly got rave reviews from the public.

I think it's fair to say kids will love the place. Even the big ones.

Middleton, Wisconsin: National Mustard Museum

Barry Levenson was the Assistant Attorney General of the State of Wisconsin in 1986. He also was a devoted Boston Red Sox fan. You might remember the World Series of that year, which didn't go well for the Red Sox. Levenson decided he needed some fun in his life.

So he quit his job and opened the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, near Madison.

One word of advice: go.

This place is amazingly witty, bursting with cleverness. The downstairs area is a not-for-profit organization legally, relying on the donations of visitors. There's a video on the subject called "MustardPiece Theatre." Sample mustard jars from brands throughout the world are on shelves. There's a trivia game about mustard. And an oversized stuffed French's mustard mascot that perfect for silly pictures.

Upstairs, you can buy a lot of different mustard, and can try them first at the Mustard Bar. Then there's the gift shop, filled with stuff actually buying. A sweatshirt devoted to Poupon U.? Check. The post cards are so clever, you'll want to buy a dozen.

Levenson happened to be in the building when we were there, and he's funny and gracious.

You might get some odd looks if you tell people that a mustard museum was a highlight of a vacation. But it will be.

Spring Green, Wisconsin: Taliesin

If you like Frank Lloyd Wright, then a trip to his house in Wisconsin obviously makes sense a tourist attraction.

Wright always struck us as more of an artist than an architect. As he put it, he had a choice between arrogance and false modesty, and he took the former. But there's no double his work was distinctive, almost museum-like.

To be fair, this is pricey stuff. As of 2011, the house tour costs $47, and the full tour is $52. That's not Disneyland, but still rather expensive. So we passed on it. But those who like Wright's work seem to think it was worth it. Check out the reviews for proof. Reservations are suggested.

By the way, there's a visitors' center across the road from the actual home, which is nicely done. We didn't have the guts to sneak down the private road to take a picture of the house, so this shot of the entrance will have to do.

Spring Green, Wisconsin: House on the Rock

Alex Jordan wanted to be an architect, so he applies to study under Frank Lloyd Wright's studio just down the street. Jordan was eventually told that he wasn't good enough to design a chicken coop and told to get lost.

Jordan went down the street, found a plot of land that included a big rock, and started building. And building. And collecting.

The result is "The House on the Rock," a rather peculiar tourist attraction in Spring Green. Words fail us in trying to come up with a description of the place.

There are three separate tours in the facility. The first is of the house itself, which has some odd touches that feel a little like a Wright project. The rocks on the mountain are part of the architecture, and the ceilings are low. It is unusual.

The most striking part of the house certainly is "the Infinity Room." This extends out from the rock into space. You can see a picture of it here, taken from a scenic viewpoint on the road to it. Even though visitors can't walk all the way to the end -- there's a barrier about halfway out -- they can go for enough to get dizzy in some cases.

Jordan opened up the facility to visitors and sold tickets, and people flocked to it. Naturally, he started plowing the profits into buying, um, stuff. The collections make up Tours Two and Three. The centerpiece is the world's largest carousel, which is great fun to watch. There are all sorts of other things here, such as guns and dollhouses and replica whales and a Streets of Yesterday display. On and on it goes. You just never know what's around the next corner.

There are no rhymes and little reason to the layout, and the effect is to make the late Mr. Jordan come off as, um, odd. This reminded us of Northlandz in Flemington, New Jersey, only bigger. Oh, there are some nice gardens on the grounds, and a building that offers insight into Jordan's life.

We thought tours one and two were the most interesting, while number three wasn't really worth the time. Your opinion may differ. The price for two tours isn't much different than for three, so if you make the effort to get there you might as well go for the Full Jordan.

P.S. The facility also runs an Inn and a Resort, complete with golf. We heard good things about the Resort and mixed reviews for the Inn.

Spring Green, Wisconsin: Military Park

Attractions can pop up in unexpected places. Like this one.

We were driving from Wisconsin Dells to Spring Green in Wisconsin. As we approached our destination, in the middle of farm land, we came across this just off the road near the airport. So we stopped.

As you can see, it contains a helicopter, tank and airplane. It's something of a tribute to our military forces, which is nice. But if you look carefully, you can see a farm house in the background. It's a little jarring.

We couldn't find any more information on the place, but there's stuff like this out there for the curious.

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin: Mt. Olympus

Wisconsin Dells gets more tourists than any other part of the state. It's tough to figure out why until you actually get there.

It's Las Vegas for kids.

There are all sorts of attractions for the younger set -- miniature golf, bowling, chain restaurants, magic shows, and water parks. Lots of water parks.

One of the biggest attractions, especially in terms of advertising dollars spent, is Mt. Olympus. It's hard to avoid the signage approaching the area.

Mt. Olympus has six roller-coasters and some water slides. We particularly liked the coaster that goes under the body of a Trojan horse.

The facility has taken an unusual approach to housing. There is a hotel right on the grounds called Hotel Rome, pictured here. Those really are rooms facing out of the Colisseum replica. But Mt. Olympus also purchased some mom-and-pop hotels (and there are lots of them) in the neighborhood, no doubt to give the consumer a few more options when it comes to pricing.

We didn't stop and visit the park, due to a lack of time and interest in the main attractions. Still, as a service we checked the reviews for the place. While the rides seem to be fine, the rest of the place -- especially the hotels -- doesn't rate too well with the public. Customer service doesn't seem to be a priority, and security is an issue.

By the sounds of it, the park may be worth a visit if you like this sort of thing, but there are better places to stay.

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin: Top Secret

Sometimes you have to make decisions while on vacation, and we made a good one here.

We saw a brochure for an attraction called "Top Secret," and the description was quite vague. Then we pulled into the parking lot for a look. The premise is that aliens picked up the White House and dropped it upside down in Wisconsin Dells. So, we took a picture of the place, and moved on.

It took some digging to figure out what was going on. Essentially, this is a fun house. Some of the rooms are said to be built upside down, so there are artifacts stuck to the ceiling, etc. We don't like fun houses.

As it turned out, that was a good idea. Upon returning home, we looked up the reviews for the place. Here they are. I think it's fair to say the paying customers generally weren't impressed. Ouch.

If you do go, don't say you weren't warned.

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Baraboo, Wisconsin: Circus World

Vacations are supposed to be fun, right? And what makes you feel more like you've gotten away from it all than a circus?

No wonder Circus World in Baraboo is a popular attraction. It used to be the winter home of the Ringling Brothers circus, before the merger with Barnum and Bailey in 1922. You can still see some structures from that period.

John Kelley, the lawyer for the Ringlings, wanted to preserve some of the history from the period of the great railroad circuses, so he started Circus World. There are indeed circus acts put on during the course of the day. A particular favorite were the trained dogs, or if you prefer, "David Rosaire and his Perky Pekes." There are acrobats, clowns, horses, etc. as well.

But that's not all. This is said to be the largest collection of circus wagons in the world, and there's no reason to doubt it -- see the picture above. It's really a nice tribute to a past era.

The signage to get to Circus World can be a little unclear, so you might want to go on line to the website get clear directions. But if you simply drive into to the town, you'll find it by the river eventually. It's only 10 minutes from Wisconsin Dells, so there's a nice base of kids who should be ready and willing to go.

Ripon, Wisconsin: Little White Schoolhouse

Here? The Republican Party started here?

That's right. The Grand Old Party has a birthdate -- March 20, 1854. The debate about slavery was raging at that point, and the Whig Party had essentially gone out of business. Alvan Bovay had moved to Ripon from New York, where he was a friend of newspaper publisher Horace Greeley. The Kansas-Nebraska bill had extended slavery into new locations, and Bovay had had enough. Some ex-Whigs and Free-Soil party members got together to see if they could come up with something better. Bovay suggested the name "Republican" and it went over pretty well and was adopted. Bovay wrote Greeley, and the fuse was lit.

In quick succession, the Republicans had a state meeting in July of 1854 in Michigan. Then the first national convention followed in 1856 in Pittsburgh. You could probably argue that our system is designed for two strong parties, and the vacuum had to be filled somehow. Even so, it was filled by an idea that started here in Ripon.

The hosting Little White Schoolhouse is located right in the middle of downtown, having been transported a few blocks before landing in its current spot in 1951. There are a few exhibits on the walls, and replicas of schoolbooks from the past are placed on the benches.

The facility is not heated, so you'd better show up between May and October when it is open. There's a most friendly woman who works inside that is more than happy to go over the history of the place. She even seemed appreciative when we pointed out that Greeley's name was misspelled on a blackboard in the front of the schoolhouse. (Note: His name also is spelled incorrectly once in the official brochure. Tsk, tsk.)

You don't have to be a Republican to enjoy a short visit to the place if you are in the area.

Green Bay, Wisconsin: Packers' Hall of Fame

Need a crash course in the history of the Green Bay Packers? Come to think of it, there might not be many people in that exact situation. But if there are, this is the place to visit.

The Packers moved their Hall into Lambeau Field when the atrium was built, and they did a first-class job in every sense. The exhibits are well done, and there is plenty of history and artifacts on display. You can visit a replica of Vince Lombardi's desk, and even pose for a picture in his chair.

As you'd expect, the greatest players in Green Bay history get plenty of space. Only the Bears have more people in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, so there's plenty to talk about.

You might be surprised to know that this facility outdraws the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Then again, it's a better attraction. The place in Canton, which could use a lot more room, could take some tips from its counterpart in Green Bay.

Green Bay, Wisconsin: Lambeau Field

You might be surprised to know that an atrium is the biggest attraction of any visit to Lambeau Field.

This addition to the fabled stadium was added around 2003, and it is spectacular. The Green Bay Packers really did a nice job with the atrium, which serves many purposes. The team's executive offices are there, as are a restaurant and bar. Down below are the team's facilities, which really are state of the art. And naturally, there is a huge souvenir stand. If you want anything with the Packers' logo on it, this is the place to visit. Our personal favorite was a woman's purse shaped like a football and decked out in green and gold. The cost was a little more than $100.

What's more, the addition has helped turn the stadium into a revenue producer. Tours are given of the building year-round, and Lambeau hosts something like 600 events per year.

Even if you are lukewarm about football, this is worth a stop.

Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin

There's been a theft! Someone has taken the apostrophe out of his town's name!

It still is a pretty place anyway, in spite of the high crime rate. Baileys Harbor is on the Lake Michigan side of Door County. That's the relatively undeveloped side of the peninsula, although you wouldn't confuse any place on the strip of land with downtown Chicago.

According to the brochure, Captain Justice Bailey needed to get away from a storm on Lake Michigan in 1848 and landed in the harbor that now has his name. Before anyone knew it, people decided to say and settle in the area. A lighthouse went up in 1852.

There are some hotels and restaurants in the town, as well as a few other businesses. In fact, there's a "general store" of sorts on the waterfront that seems to have everything you could possibly need during a stay there. Just up the road from the waterfront is Kangaroo Lake, a pretty body of water that isn't too deep but good for some water sports like kayaking. It all looked pretty peaceful during our visit.

Sister Bay, Wisconsin: Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant

This is one of Door County's most famous tourist attractions ... most of the time.

Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant and Butik is well known for its roof. Its roof? Yup. Because it is made out of grass. And sheep spend days grazing on the roof. You can cruise down Highway 42 (North Bay Shore Road) and see them.

Except, when we happened to be visiting. The friendly staff told us that reseeding of the roof was taking place, so the goats had to stay away for a few days. Darn, darn, darn.

Luckily, there's a goatcam attached to the restaurant's website. So we can check up on the goats whenever we want, and so can you.

The restaurant has all sorts of Swedish food on the menu -- it even has a fish boil on weekends -- and the gift shop is filled with items of that nature. It's perfect for someone who is even 1/500th Swedish (the author qualifies).

Peninsula State Park, Wisconsin

Door County in Wisconsin practically becomes a suburb of Chicago in the summer, as many flock to take advantage of the cool lake breezes. There isn't a great deal of infrastructure in Peninsula State Park, as it's mostly designed for hiking, biking, boating, fishing, camping, etc. There's also a golf course in the grounds.

What's surprising about this area is that there's not a great deal of public access to the waterfront, as much of it seems to be in private hands. So it's nice to see that something like seven miles of coastline was preserved in this park.

The views of Green Bay, like the one above from Swen's Bluff on Skyline Drive, are particularly nice on a good summer day. Eagle Tower also is in that category if you are willing to climb a few flights of stairs.

Egg Harbor, Wisconsin: 45th parallel marker

In theory, there are all sorts of places that could mark the spot that is theoretically halfway between the equator and the North Pole. After all, the 45th parallel goes around the world.

Few places actually do it, but Egg Harbor is one of them. (I've been to another in Nova Scotia.) It's right off Route 42 in Door County, the Cape Cod of Wisconsin. Pull off the side of the road, and you'll get a quick lesson in geography. For example, the distance between the two points on the globe isn't quite even, as the poles are flattened -- so the equator is 12 miles closer.

As you can see in the link here, there's another marker a few miles to the east.

Namur, Wisconsin: Belgian Settlement Marker

Some drivers pull off the road when they see a sign for an historical marker, and I'm one of them.

While on the way to Door County, Wisconsin, drivers will see such a sign. They'll head down a side street, make a couple of turns, and be greeted with the nice display in Namur shown in the picture here.

I can't say I knew a whole lot about Belgian immigration to the United States, but seeing Brussels on a map of Wisconsin alerted me to the possibilities. There's a church and cemetery right behind the spot, that has been designated as National Historic Landmark.

More information can be found here.